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Cynthia Macdonald Papers

Identifier: 2010-019

The collection contains typed and handwritten drafts of poems and other writings, as well as correspondence, photographs, clippings, and memorabilia related to Cynthia Macdonald’s life and work as an accomplished poet and co-founder of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. In addition to the extensive accumulation of multiple drafts of her writings, Macdonald’s trove of correspondence is of particular interest, featuring letters to and from writing friends, colleagues, and family members. The collection as a whole also documents Macdonald’s teaching career, psychoanalysis career, personal life, and family history.

The collection is divided into ten series: Writing; Correspondence; Writing Career; Writings by Others; Teaching Career; Psychoanalysis Career; Personal; Audiovisual; Electronic Media; and Family History. The Writing series and Correspondence series are thoroughly processed in detail, while the remaining series are arranged in accordance with minimal processing standards to expedite their availability to researchers. Each series is prefaced by a detailed description.


  • 1867-2005
  • Majority of material found within 1965-2000

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish from copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian. Reproduction decisions will be made by Special Collections staff on a case-by-case basis.


54.0 linear feet

Biographical Information

Cynthia Lee Macdonald was born in New York City in 1928 to Leonard Lee and Dorothy Kiam Lee. Significantly, her younger sister Virginia, to whom Cynthia was very close in age, died of scarlet fever at 5 or 6 years old. Macdonald’s parents divorced in 1940 and both eventually remarried. Leonard, a Hollywood scriptwriter for movies and television, lived in Los Angeles, while Dorothy returned to New York; Macdonald spent time on both coasts throughout her childhood and teen years.

Macdonald earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bennington College in Vermont in 1950. She married E.C. Macdonald in 1954 and had two children, Jennifer and Scott. Her budding career as an opera singer gave way to her poetry writing, prompting her enrollment at Sarah Lawrence College in New York to earn her Master’s degree in writing in 1970.

A career as a writing teacher soon followed. After teaching first at Sarah Lawrence College, then at Johns Hopkins University, she co-founded with Stanley Plumly the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston in 1979. She taught at UH until her retirement in the mid-2000s, receiving the Esther Farfel Award for faculty excellence along the way.

Macdonald became a widely published and award-winning poet. Her first of seven books of poetry, Amputations, was published in 1972, and she had individual poems published in dozens and dozens of esteemed magazines and journals such at The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Yale Review. Among the many honors and awards that Macdonald received for her writing were a Guggenheim Fellowship and the O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize.

Macdonald was also a practicing psychoanalyst for many years, and a faculty member of the Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute.

Though born in New York, Cynthia Macdonald comes from old Houston stock: Her mother Dorothy was born in Houston in 1906 to Edward Kiam and Fanny Tim Kiam. The Kiam family had been in the city as far back as the mid-to-late 1800s. In 1893, Edward Kiam opened a clothing store in downtown Houston in a five-story brick building that still stands and is still known as “The Kiam Building” at 320 Main Street.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired from Jennifer Macdonald and Scott Macdonald in 2010.

Separated Materials

The book collection from Cynthia Macdonald’s personal library (

Guide to the Cynthia Macdonald Papers
Paul Slavin
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections Repository

University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
MD Anderson Library
4333 University Drive
Houston TX 77204-2000 USA